Q&A with Translator Thomas Scheck: Exegetical Epistles FOTC Volumes 147 & 148

We are delighted to have Thomas Scheck on our blog to discuss his Fathers of The Church (FOTC) translations of Exegetical Epistles volumes 147 and 148. Thomas P. Scheck is a Senior Fellow of The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and an Upper School Latin Teacher at Naples Classical Academy, Naples FL.

Q: ‘Exegetical Epistles’ has been split into two volumes. Can you speak a little bit about why that made sense and how you approached the division between the two volumes?

A: Initially, I was disappointed to hear that my offering of these previously-mostly-untranslated letters would not fit into one big fat volume. At the beginning stages of the project, I envisioned a large single volume that might provide a useful and affordable introduction to Jerome’s overall approach to Scripture interpretation. I thought this especially because of the very interesting variety and range of the exegesis found here, that virtually covers Genesis through Revelation, that treats Jerome’s approach to both the Old Testament and the New. That was my initial vision, but as the project took shape and grew larger, I realized that some of the Jerome/Augustine correspondence needed to be included. I ended up making new translations of some letters that had already been rendered into English. I then began to realize that the most important thing was simply to make sure these letters had been accurately translated to the best of my ability and were well introduced and annotated, and not whether they could all be squeezed into one volume. It is still not an ideal presentation because most of his epistles are not included here in these two volumes.

Q: You have translated a number of works of St. Jerome (as well as Origen) for our Fathers of the Church series. Is there something about the writings of Jerome that you find particularly compelling among the Church Fathers?

A: I learned a great deal as I worked through both the early letters and the late ones. The topic of Origen’s influence on Jerome has always fascinated me and it is evident I think throughout these two volumes. More broadly, I really admire and revere the way Jerome approaches answering exegetical queries from his correspondents. He first consults the earlier exegetical tradition, going back as early as he can, whether Greek or Latin, and he reports, transmits, translates, adapts material from his predecessors. He does not want to innovate or try to be original, except insofar as he wants to base his Old Testament exegesis on the Hebrew text rather than on the Septuagint, though he does not want to dismiss the latter, which was the Church’s Bible. As an exegete he stands very much rooted in a Christian tradition that he wants to make known to posterity. He also had detailed knowledge of Jewish tradition and found it valuable.

Q: If there was one overriding ‘message’ that you’d like a reader to take away from the Epistles in these two volumes, what would it be?

A: The Catholic Church at least has traditionally regarded St. Jerome as its greatest biblical interpreter and translator, and I hope the reader of these volumes will understand why. Pope Francis was so inspired by Jerome’s devotion to Holy Scripture and the example that it set for Catholics that he set aside the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time as Sunday of the Word of God. It’s hard to imagine a greater tribute to Jerome’s life and legacy. May God bless Pope Francis for this action.

Q: Was there anything surprising or unexpected that you unearthed while working on these translations? 

A: I was fascinated by the correspondence with Pope St. Damasus and to learn more about Jerome’s friendship with him. Also his close spiritual friendship with the circle of learned and holy female saints from Rome and elsewhere was amazing: Marcella, Paula, Fabiola, Principia, Hedibia. His relations with Augustine were not very harmonious, from what I can tell, though there seems to be a persistent prejudice against Jerome when this conflict over Galatians 2 is recounted and described by modern scholars. I hope that these volumes may contribute to Jerome’s being taken more seriously as a biblical interpreter.

I still feel that in many, if not most ways, Jerome deserves a far more learned scholar to translate and annotate him. He far surpasses me in every way, but I have done my best and I am now working on St. Gregory of Elvira.

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